“Swing to the right!” shouted the blacksmith-tyrant. “Ready, exercise—one, two”—and so on. And then he would yell: “No, Chalmers, don’t punch out with your arms—swing up your gun! Swing it up from the bottom! That’s the way! Poke ’em! Poke ’em! Put the punch into ’em!” And over Jimmie stole a cold horror. There was nothing on the end of those guns but a little black hole, but Jimmie knew what was supposed to be there—what would some day be there; the exercise meant that these affable young Leesville store-clerks were getting ready to drive a sharp, gleaming blade into the bowels of human beings! “Poke ’em! Poke ’em!” shouted the ex-blacksmith, and with desperate force they swung the heavy rifles, throwing their bodies to one side and leaping out with one foot. Horrible! Horrible!
Man is a gregarious animal, and it is a fundamental law of his being that when a group of his fellows are doing a certain thing, and doing it with energy and fervour, anyone who does not do it, who does not share the mood of energy and fervour shall be the object of ridicule and anger, shall feel within his own heart confusion and distress. This is true, even if the group is doing nothing more worthwhile than making itself drunk. How much more shall it be when it is engaged in making the world safe for democracy!
The only way the man can save himself is by holding before his mind the belief that he is right, and that some day this will be recognized; in other words, by appealing to some other group of men, who in some future time will applaud him. If he is sure of this future applause, he can manage to stand the jeers for the moment. But how when he begins to doubt—when his mind is haunted by the possibility that the men of the future may agree with those of the present, who are learning to march in unison, and to poke bayonets into the bodies of Huns!
One of the things which brought this destructive doubt to Jimmie’s soul was the sight of Emil Forster, learning to march and to poke. Emil had been one of his heroes, Emil knew a hundred times as much as he—and Emil was going to the war! The squad marched away to the City hall across the square, and deposited its rifles in a room in the basement, and then Emil came out, and Jimmie went up to him. The young carpet-designer of course was delighted to meet his old friend, and asked him to go to lunch. As they walked along the street together Jimmie asked what it meant, and Emil answered: “It means that I have made up my mind.”
“You’re going to fight the German people?”
“Strange as you’ll think it, I’m going to fight them for their own good. Bebel wrote in his memoirs that the way to get democratic progress in autocratic countries is through military defeat; and it seems up to America to provide this defeat for Germany.”
“But—you were preaching just the opposite!”